As a performing arts educator, I am often putting my students on stage in all kinds of settings. I believe that this is a crucial part of their overall education and preparation for life. From the earliest years, encouraging your child to step up, prepare and deliver a performance is something that cannot be learned in any other way than by doing. As soon as children are old enough to speak clearly, sing a little song or move to some music, having them perform in front of an audience of any kind, be it large or small, family and friends, at school in a group or on stage in a recital, on their own or with a group, at school or summer camp, teaches your child how to face an audience and present themselves.
Just think about how many times in life those skills come in to play. Whether presenting a project at school, interviewing for university entrance, an internship or a job, or on the job—presenting your product, your marketing or organizational plan, or an idea of any sort, the presentation skills are all a part of life.
Whether at my Summer Music Program or in music lessons, I always make sure that even the youngest children perform. At a young age, most of them don’t get nervous. It is only when they reach an age where they realize that failure is a possibility that they start to get nervous—somewhere around 9-10 years old. But if they have been performing since the age of 4 or 5, it becomes a natural part of what they do through music, dance, and drama lessons. When the children come home with a part in a play or concert at school, encourage them to learn their part well, even if it is only a small part or part of the chorus, every performing opportunity is just that, a golden opportunity to build life skills. With each successful performance, the children build much-needed confidence.
I don’t believe any performance can be a failure—it is a learning experience and a step to improving the next performance. What went wrong and what went right? How can one improve? Did the student practice enough to have the needed confidence to perform? (this is probably the most common cause of insecurity and mistakes.) Did they lose concentration on stage because of noise in the audience or lights shining on them? So many things can happen, and yet learning to cope with these challenges is well worth the benefits.
Don’t expect perfection. No one is perfect. The most famous concert artists, actors and other performers can all tell you stories of the disaster(s) that happened to them. And if they are honest, they will tell you that no performance is ever perfect. But were they able to connect to their audience and communicate what was need for a successful performance? That’s the key. Because performing also requires such skills as improvisation, keeping concentration under trying circumstances, and thinking on one’s feet. Whether one ends up being a stay-at-home parent or a CEO, those are skills that always come in handy.
Then there are the children who are, literally, terrified of getting on stage and performing. Pushing a child to the point of tears and distress is not ever going to gain anyone anything except more tears, distress and a real fear of performing. However I will often use some pretty strong persuasion to get them on stage if I can. I will play a duet with them so that I am sitting right next to them on stage, or put them in a group so that they don’t feel alone. If possible, I make the “stage” area feel as comfortable and cozy as possible, rehearsing in advance, having the children perform for other children before adults arrive and even standing or sitting in such a way so that they cannot actually see the audience as they play. Having done it once, twice or more, they then realize that it won’t actually kill them to perform, and that the praise, applause and positive feedback just might be worth the effort next time.
Performing as an end in and of itself is really only for those who love it, but the benefits of practicing performance skills, can benefit everyone.